Elevators of the Roman Colosseum – An Innovation in Design
Almost 2,000 years ago during the height of the Roman Empire, as many as 50,000 people filled the Roman Colosseum to watch the gladiators battle. Many of the events pitted man against beast. Elevators leading to trap doors in the floor of the stadium added to the excitement as both gladiators and beasts came into view of spectators, building up their excitement and cheers.
The design of the elevator systems was quite ingenious. Below the performance floor was a separate level, the hypogeum. There, the gladiators could dress and prepare for battle. In addition, there were areas that held tigers, lions, wolves, leopards, bears and other wild animals in cages.
It is estimated there were 24 or up to 30 lifts leading to the Colosseum floor. The lifts had a unique design. There was a moveable platform or cage adjacent to the lifting mechanism. The lifting mechanism had a strong, vertical rotating timber pivoted on a depression that kept it from moving laterally at the base. At the top of the shaft was a drum that wound or unwound ropes that raised and lowered the floor or cage.
Attached to the vertical shaft were horizontal bars at two levels that required as many as eight workers, often slaves or prisoners, to turn them. Each lift had a capacity of about 600 lb, the weight of two lions. As a platform or cage neared the Colosseum floor, a ramp and trap door opened.
A gladiator or animal climbed the ramp to the main floor. The appearances led to the cheers and shouts of the crowd as the event was about to begin.